Philosophy

Potentiality Principle Strikes Again

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

Someone asked,

OK, I’ll play, but only because I’m curious. What is the ethical problem with using embryonic stem cells from fertalized eggs that are being thrown away from a fertility clinic? They are other wise going to be thrown away or disposed of, so why not put them to use?

What I get confused with is how people are against that particular use, yet aren’t against the fertility clinic itself, which outside the scope of this argument is throwing away fertalized eggs…aka “murder” to the extremists.

Now granted, there are plenty of other ways to use embryonic stem cells as well, but weve completely killed on good use but claiming all uses are bad.

So this person responded,

What is the ethical problem with executing all the people in jail for life terms? They are otherwise going to die in jail anyways.

What is the ethical problem with using said prisoners in medical research when they are going be die anyways? They are otherwise going to be executed anyways.

Having looked upon those rationalizations look again at your arguement.

Typical Slashdot–fine, I’ll bite. You guys don’t read much actual Philosophy, do you? Makes it kind of hard to analyze Ethics if you’ve only done it from the comfort of the omniscient armchair.

Embryos being disposed of and prisoners who are given life terms being killed early are two very, very different things.

The main argument trumpeted by people against embryonic stem cell research is that embryos are worthy of “being saved,” which is to say, they have “moral value.” These same people, to be consistent, have to be against forms of very early abortion and even some forms (if not all forms) of contraception.

The basic thing that vexes these people is that they have never studied the potentiality principle. They think the mere fact that an embryo has the potential to become a human being gives it moral value, makes it “worthy of being saved.” This is because they know human beings have moral value, and so conflate “a thing with potential to be something of moral value” with “a thing that has moral value.” However, this argument is spurious, as I’ll try to show.

For one thing, many things have the potential (i.e., have some causal relationship) to the creation of a healthy infant child. As someone else once suggested to me, one such thing is a glance of flirtation toward a fertile young woman. From that glance, there exists the potential for intercourse; from that intercourse, the potential of conception; from that conception, the potential of a human child in the form of an embryo.

If that example seems too cooked up, think about miscarriages. Hundreds of thousands of “babies” die from miscarriages every year. So, since that constitutes an essential mass death of a significant portion of the human “population,” shouldn’t we be devoting massive scientific research dollars to stopping miscarriages?

The reason both these things seem absurd is because saying that embryos have moral value is completely arbitrary. Harm cannot be done to embryos in the same way harm cannot be done to chairs or rocks. The chair or rock doesn’t have a hope, an aspiration, or a direction which is thwarted by the said harm. The rock or chair doesn’t care about the said harm. The crux of the matter is, the rock or chair isn’t conscious, and that’s why they have no moral value.

The only people who might care about the rock or chair’s harm is the owner of the said rock or chair. But that is only due to a relational property between the owner and his objects, and hasn’t a thing to do with morality. (For example, when considering whether humans have the right to harm other humans, it serves no one to say, “Okay, but what if the person harmed were your mother?” Introducing the familial relationship simply distorts the inherent morality of a thing, since it makes the decision relational, based on other notions such as loyalty to one’s family, etc.)

The reason we see harms to dogs or cows as worse than harms to chairs is because we know that dogs or cows can a) experience pain, b) in dying or being severely harmed, be deprived of their right to continue the life they were already living. Chairs experience no pain, conceive of no harm, and have no life of which to be deprived.

One can make an argument for defending the late-term fetus (which may be conscious) from abortion, but preventing the embryo from use in scientific research based on the idea that the embryo is a “human life” is, morally speaking, quite unsound. This is because embryos have no moral value of their own. They are things which may, one day, become things of moral value, but that does not mean they are morally valuable now.

To take to your prisoner example, human beings have moral value even if they are savage criminals sentenced to life imprisonment. This is because they are conscious human beings who still have a right to life within our moral framework. Using them from scientific research sets a moral example that humans, in general, are usable in harmful scientific research, since the fact that this is a prisoner does not mean that this person has no moral value at all. Prisoners are not lacking in moral value, even if the individual’s morality might be bad.

This thoroughly shows the distorted logic of the parent poster, but I’d like to go on for one moment about yet another oversight in this argument. What’s funny about people who are against embryonic stem cell research based on the potentiality principle is that they often don’t realize that even the potentiality principle may not be able to help them.

Embryos are simply configurations of human cells, with genetic code to eventually become a human fetus, and, from there, a human child. But the embryo cannot make this journey without the support of a host mother’s biological system, and thus that biological system is just as accountable for the potentiality of the fetus as the embryo is (perhaps moreso). Once the embryo is removed from the mother, there exists no potential for this combination-system to produce a fetus: therefore, the embryo even lacks the said potentiality. In the end, embryos outside the mother’s system are like any other configuration of cells, and thus definitely do not have any moral value, even if you don’t buy my argument above.

To conclude, embryos have no inherent moral value. They only have moral value if you believe potential to have moral value gives something moral value, which I believe to be a kind of circular argument and a conflation of ideas. The example of embryos becomes even more difficult to defend when potentiality is removed. I have tried to show that it can be, and thus the position granting moral value to embryos is quite difficult to argue even for believers in the moral power of potentiality.

UPDATE: /. moderators liked my little piece of analysis above, and I got some nice responses. (“I just wanted to say that was one of the most intelligent and well thought out posts I have ever read on Slashdot. I truly enjoyed reading it and now I am even considering getting an [Intro. to Philosophy] type book to read” and “I rarely post on slashdot, but i just wanted to agree with zbode and thank you for one of the only ‘read more’ comments that i’ve read in its [entirety]. Very well done.”) This despite the fact that in the original post, I spelled “principle” as “principal” (what got into me?) and left out a word in a critical concluding sentence 😉

Nonetheless, I like the responses I got. One person pointed out that reading Philosophy is exactly commenting from the armchair. Well, not exactly. Philosophy, it’s true, doesn’t have much “action” associated with it, and is mostly thought, but when one says you’re an “armchair philosopher”, it means you just have opinions about philosophy without ever having “done” philosophy. In other words, you just perpetuate misleading preconceived notions. At least, that’s what I meant by it. Philosophy is a way of understanding arguments in terms of inherent properties to those arguments, and in terms of soundness and validity. People who shoot about talking about embryonic stem cell research as being “immoral” without a justification other than “God told me” are being lazy, armchair Philosophers.

the mere fact that an embryo has the potential to become a human being

There’s your mistake… I think those on the other side of the fence treat an embryo as a human being. Assume this other sider believes in a “soul”, and it is this “soul” that is the defining mark of a human being. I really can’t see any point for the soul to come into existence except at the moment the egg is fertilized. Though perhaps I have misunderstood those on the other side.

No, I think he did understand those on the other side. They do think humans have souls, which is an argument even I can understand, since I’ve studied it and the implications of not having a soul. But I don’t think anyone, not even Christians, can tell me that whether a thing might be connected with a soul tells me how I should treat it in this, physical world. There is simply no grounding for that. Furthermore, I don’t know how one is to know that fertilization is when the human being gets a soul. I think Christians for the most part used to believe that souls came at birth, not fertilization. Otherwise miscarriages means the embryo’s soul goes to hell, due to original sin, which doesn’t seem right.

“To conclude, embryos have no inherent moral value. They only have moral value if you believe potential to have moral value gives something moral value, which I believe to be a kind of circular argument and a conflation of ideas.”

Which would be a great argument if you were debating with a rational, scientific person. However, most of the objections come from people who have a religious orientation and some level of belief about association of a “soul” to the embryo (potential child). Miscarriage (many of which happen before the pregnancy is even evident) is a “natural” event and therefore within the realm of God. As in, you might not like it, but it’s in God’s plan and so it is acceptable. Deliberately creating and harvesting the embryos is not natural and not God endorsed.

Yea, I could see people holding this view, it just really is beyond me how they could. That’s not God’s will? Well, neither is giving poor, homeless people money to survive with. “It’s God’s will for the poor guy to die, God gave him that lot in life.” And for that matter, neither is amniocentisis or any other medical method God’s will. This argument isn’t very appealing to me. It sends you back to the stone age.

We don’t know what God endorses outside of the Scripture. God never mentioned embryos, therefore we can do what we want. “Guessing” what God endorses within your religious framework is nothing more than making moral policy based on your own whim. If you believe in the Scripture as the Word of God, then, by God, you better stick to the Scripture. If you don’t believe the Scripture is the end-all source of all your decisions, then you better not speak about God’s will, because you obviously haven’t an idea what God’s will is (since you are unable to communicate with him or witness any of his actions), and so you’re making it up.

Shame on Us

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

In the second-to-last Real Time with Bill Maher, the talking head from the American Enterprise Institute pointed out how disappointed he was that the Economist ran a cover which implied that the United States should be ashamed of itself for the Katrina disaster. He said the left wing loves to “Blame Us First”, but he doesn’t buy into that; he’s still proud to be an American.

You’re not ashamed? I think I might understand why he thinks that way. For example, if you’re walking by a cliff, and see some poor guy slip and almost fall of the cliff, and now he’s there hanging off the edge, you would be compelled to go help that person. So you run over to him, put your hand out, and he grabs your hand, and you try with all your might to pull him up. But you just can’t do it, and so eventually you lose your grip and he falls anyway.

One might ask the question, should you be ashamed of the way you acted?

You might feel regretful, you might feel sorry, but you definitely shouldn’t be ashamed of yourself. You did what you could to save him, but he couldn’t be saved. You still did the right thing, it just wasn’t good enough.

Except now imagine that instead of rushing out to grab this guy, you just pulled up a chair, sat down, scratched your chin, and said, “You know, you probably shouldn’t have been walking so close to the edge.”

And as that guy is screaming there for help, you just sit there, emotionless, and debate the should-have’s and could-have’s, instead of getting up saving him.

And he falls to his death.

That’s what the US Government did, and, more particularly, that’s what the right wing that supports it did. And it’s shameful. It’s very, very shameful.

It’s not that people died. It’s that people died and we sat back and told them, “You had it coming to you. Tough shit.”

Land of the Free. Home of the Brave.

Homeland Security, or the Department of Peace?

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

I really have been so caught up in my own nonsense that I haven’t even deeply parsed and analyzed what has gone on since the feds fumbled dealing with the Katrina approach and aftermath, but I will say this.

We spend billions of dollars on supposedly preventing unseen harms, on supposedly stopping catastrophes before they happen. The irony here is that we knew this catastrophe was coming, and we did nothing. The catastrophe happened and we still did nothing. And people suffered from its aftermath, and only then we did something (but only slightly more than nothing).

As I said in an earlier post on a completely different topic, we should just all come to our fucking senses and not spend a god-damn dime on homeland security. You think that’ll open the flood gates for terrorism? Fine. Let them come, let them attack. If the Bush administration is allowed to think in terms of “this many innocent lives may be sacrified for the greater good,” then I will too. I can deal with 3,000 people dying if it means we have $300 billion dollars to spend to save and ameliorate lives in this country.

The typical conservative response is to get completely sensitive about it. “You wouldn’t say that if one of your family members were among the 3,000 who had to be sacrificed.” Sure I wouldn’t. And George Bush wouldn’t be charging ahead in Iraq if it were his daughters whose lives were on the line. And I wouldn’t cross the street if I knew once I step foot on the other side, one of my friends had to die. But that isn’t a way to reason about things. Sensitive situations simply push away the moral issue and replace it with a familial one. We study this very much in Ethics, for example:

A train hurtles down it’s track, towards a junction. The junction can either leave the train upon it’s current track or divert it. On the current track stand five people. On the diversion track stands a single person. All, like the train driver, are unaware of the imminent collision. Only you, standing at the junction box, are aware of what is about to occur.

You therefore have a choice before you; to leave the junction box lever untouched and see five people die, or to close the lever and in doing so shift the train to the diversionary track, and see one person die.

What do you do?

“Well, ” you think to yourself, “I would rather no one died at all, but since there’s no getting away from it, it’s better than only one person dies, rather than five, so I will close the lever.”

A variation of this thought experiment, which points to the difficulty of choosing one life over another, has the single person be your mother, and the five others be five anonymous bystanders. In this variation, you have a choice: let the train kill 5 bystanders, or let the train kill your mother.

Of course, most people respond to that thought experiment by saying they’d rather kill the five people, especially since killing the five requires little action, while killing your mother would require the push of the lever. But that obscures the main issue: if the people were anonymous, you’d choose one death over five. Therefore, the fact that you are so intimately connected to your mother should not enter into it when we reason about what the morally right decision is.

In this case, I look at our Homeland Security spending as having many, many hidden harms. One, it enthrones the military-industrial complex yet again, putting weapons manufacturers at the forefront of our capitalist system, and allowing them to feed the politicians with the things they need and get big contracts in return. In this sense, we all pay a kind of tax to weapons dealers, and we pay it without even being able to measure what kind of protection this tax affords us.

Second, it creates a constant state of panic, which shrouds other important domestic and foreign political issues. Security, terrorism, homeland security: these have become the #1 issues of our time, almost a national obsession. Healthcare, unemployment benefits, fair capitalism, small business support, science and research, all of that has taken a back seat. And, it is reflected in the federal discretionary budget.

Meanwhile, the paradox is that so far, we only have, in America, the 3,000 deaths of September 11 as our major loss of life directly from Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations, yet we probably have between 10 and 100x that many deaths from other preventable causes that could be saved with the use of the hundreds of billions we toss into the anti-terrorism toliet bowl. (Among others, people who can’t afford healthcare, the homeless, domestic violence, gun violence, suicide, drug overdose, crime-related deaths, on and on).

Furthermore, we have the upcoming generational deaths that are much harder to measure but are equally important: pollution, environmental disasters, and chemical tampering with our food, which could each lead to cancers and other health-related disorders.

Aside from this, we have a less grave but perhaps even more important loss: the flight of our brain share. Our educational system is crumbling alongside the competition, and the best our incompetent government can do is yell “privatize!” We have poor, smart kids who can’t afford an education, and these kids will end up in drugs, crime, or both. We have high school systems that encourage apathy, lack of civic duty, and unchecked consumerism, and we have the least intellectually curious generation possibly ever. These harms mean that when I get older, and look over the society that the Bush administration has shaped, I will not even see the tiny, rare bits of political activism you see around us today. The Left, I’m afraid, is really dying, even from the bottom-up.

Did I seem to tread off-topic? Well, I didn’t. All of this is related to how singly-focused we have become on “homeland security.” I just keep repeating to myself what my Dad said to me a long time ago: “Do you think that when fascism was taking hold in Italy, we all knew it was happening? Fascists don’t arrive waving flags of fascism and calling themselves fascists. Fascists arrive looking like you or me, telling us all that we need protection, and that they have a vision. You then follow along, because it sounds good, and because you’re scared. And then before you know it, you’re no longer asking questions; you’re just following orders.”

Intelligent Design? Show me the science.

Monday, August 29th, 2005

By a philosopher I much enjoyed reading during my Consciousness class, Daniel Dennett. Read it.

Loaded Terms: Pro-Life, Anti-Abortion, or just True Believers?

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

I recently read an amusing article about a LA Times editor who changed a review of an opera which included the sentence “an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean” to read “an incomparably glorious and goofy anti-abortion paean.”

If you didn’t get it the first time around, it may be clearer if you see that the author meant “pro-life” in the sense of “life-affirming,” and that the opera actually had naught to do with abortion.

Someone responding to the report pointed out that he was an LA Times reporter, and understands that the error was made because of an LA Times style guide entry about abortion, reproduced below:

abortion

Those who favor maintaining legal access to abortion are abortion rights advocates, supporters of legal abortion or those who favor abortion rights. They should not be called abortion advocates or be characterized as being pro-abortion. Those opposed to abortion may be called opponents of abortion or abortion foes or may be characterized as being anti-abortion. Do not use the term pro-life.

Conservatives immediately lunged a response, claiming for example:

The ban of “pro-life” only makes ethical sense if its part of an even handed treatment of the abortion argument that includes a ban on the equally loaded and misrepresentative term “pro-choice”, for example phrasing the sides as pro- and anti-abortion. It’s very telling that the pro-abortion people are only characterized in positive terms (advocates, supporters, favor) while anti-abortion activists are entirely negative (oppponents, foes).

Here, the conservative missed the point. People who support the right to abortion aren’t “pro-abortion.” To be “pro-abortion” would mean you favor abortion over all other options–such that, for example, you think all pregnancies should end in abortion. Of course, pro-choice people are only focused on the right to abort–they don’t, for example, extol the virtues of aborting a fetus, but only want the option available. Pro-choice people support the right to choose whether to have an abortion, instead of being told one way or the other about it.

To put it another way, though one may support the right one has to murder another man in defense of one’s own life, one would be quite illspoken to call such a right “pro-murder.” The killing may be justified in this or that case, but there almost always exists the riskier and less convenient route, say, to capture the attacker, tie his hands behind his back, and bring him to the police. Likewise, abortion rights advocates believe that when a pregnancy is unwanted, one should not be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, since doing so forces risks and inconveniences upon the woman in question (such as, for example, complications during pregnancy, complications at delivery, being unable to perform in school or work during the ultimate months of the pregnancy, and having to care for a born human being after birth). If the woman was raped and seeks an abortion afterwards, things are even more complicated, as there may be serious psychological issues at play.

Ultimately, the pro-choice crowd sees this issue as a decision only that a woman and her doctor should be allowed to make–not lawmakers or priests or the Vatican. As I will argue in my future article evaluating the ethics surrounding abortion, the decision to abort a fetus who has the potential of becoming a full-grown human-being rests entirely with the creator, and, ironically, this view of the creator’s power over its creation is entirely consistent with Christian scripture (not that it has to be to be morally true, but this just happens to be a nice and elegant if-I-may-say-so-myself consequence of the ethical analysis).

On the other hand, anti-abortion is a completely proper term for the conservative crowd, because they think abortion should not be allowed in any instance (in other words, women shouldn’t be give the choice of abortion), so not only don’t they support the right to have an abortion, but they equate abortion with a kind of murder, and are therefore almost unequivocally against it.

The reason “pro-life,” as a term, is so grossly distorted, is that it equates a love of innocent life with being against a woman’s right to choose to abort a fetus which she created and about which there is no consensus whether it can be considered to be a “human life.” (The only consensus, lest you forget, is that the fetus has the potential at becoming a human life, but as I argued earlier in my blog, so too do my glances at a fertile woman.)

It also equates the morality of abortion with the morality of euthanasia, two issues that are so crazily opposed on the ethical analyst’s scale that it is strange to find them uttered in the same sentence. It also plays into the love that spiritual and religious people have of life, and tries to place them as diametrically opposed to people who are implied to be “anti-life,” or life haters. This is quite a distortion, and as a newspaper editor, I’d leave this term out of the debate as well.

The reason I, personally, am disgusted by the term “pro-life” is because of how inconsistent (and, sometimes even racist) the people who declare themselves pro-life tend to be. Now, here I am speaking in generalities, so please don’t take the following paragraph as the ultra-serious analysis you come to normally expect from me ;-). Coming from an Italian background, I think speaking in generalities is sometimes important, as often the “stereotypes” arise from somewhere.

There are many “pro-life” people who support the war in Iraq and our general military presence in the world, and there are many “pro-life” people who are very much against this war and all others. But just to point out the general moral inconsistency, I have to say that I find it quite laughable when a person claims he or she is “pro-life” but accepts as a consequence of our war in Iraq “collateral damage,” namely “innocent life lost as a means to an end.” I again am speaking in generalties, but I’m sure you can also find more than a few thousand “pro-life” people who believe we were justified in dropping the atom bombs on Japan (see earlier articles on my blog). The term pro-life only refers to fetuses and euthanasia because ultimately the issue is not at all about practical political or secular philosophical issues for these people. The issues revolve entirely around scripture, the Bible, and moral righteousness, seeing the people who ask for abortions as the same people who also do such evils as having sex for fun, smoking marijuana, and using swear-words.

When I analyze the issue of abortion from a philosophical standpoint (I am currently working on a WordPress draft that does just that), I leave miracles out of it. But these people can’t help but cite the scripture. It’s funny and sad that we see the same trend emerging as they aim to stamp out evolutionary theory, as well.

That said, as a newspaper editor I’d leave the term “intelligent design” out of the evolution debate, preferring instead to refer to those people as “people who believe that the only way to explain the natural diversity of this planet is to say that a higher being–call him “God”–designed each and every species on this planet, and on all the other planets in this universe that may have life forms. But those who support this view have no explanation for who created this higher being, or where he may have come from.”

As Bill Maher recently said in his wonderful New Rules from last show:

And the reason there is no real debate, is that intelligent design isn’t real science. It’s the equivalent of saying that the thermos keeps hot things hot and cold things cold… because it’s a god. It’s so willfully ignorant you might as well worship the U.S. Mail. It came again! Praise, Jesus!

No, stupidity isn’t a form of knowing things. Thunder is high pressure air meeting low pressure air. It’s not God bowling. “Babies come from storks” is not a competing school of thought. In medical school, we shouldn’t teach both. The media shouldn’t equate both. If Thomas Jefferson knew we were blurring the line this much between church and state, he would turn over in his slave.

Perhaps the grossest distortion of views ever engaged by the “pro-life” crowd was related to Terri Schiavo. I’m glad that even after that woman finally got to rest in peace, a Roman Catholic University will continue to mourn her death with a scholarship for priests in her name.

Right after my Mom had me, she had an aneurysm of her brain. The operation that had to be performed on her had a 30% chance of success, with a high chance of intense brain damage (leading to a vegetative state).

When my Dad found the doctor to perform the surgery, he spoke with him in confidence, and said to him something to the effect of, “My wife has told me she doesn’t want to end up a vegetable. Either she survives the operation, or she doesn’t–understand?”

My Mom survived the operation, thank goodness. But if the operation had failed, and my Mom would have been left there in a vegetative state, I would have thanked anyone who gave my father the right to end her life as someone who truly understands humanity, and the morality of life and death. Since then, my Mom has said the same thing to me. She was utterly disgusted by the Terri Schiavo case, and how so-called religious people’s could support keeping alive a woman who was clearly suffering so much, just to push forward their biological-life-obsessed agenda. But perhaps the concurrence between intelligent design theorists and “pro-life” people isn’t so far-fetched. After all, it’s quite hard to get so very excited about saving embryos, 1- or 3-month-old fetuses, or braindead human bodies, if you don’t believe that “God” had a hand in creating each of them, if you don’t believe that each of those configurations of cells are works of art from an Almighty Creator.

Sadness and remorse for the worst acts of human history

Sunday, August 21st, 2005

Wow, I worked myself up at this late hour thinking about issues related to the morality of warfare (or lack thereof, as it were), and in particular to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A particularly naive /. poster (is the adjective “naive” redundant here?) pointed out how we can often forget that “civilians can be enemy combatants,” and he mentions a Mitsubishi plant in Nagasaki, as if that were most casulaties occured in Nagasaki (nonsense of course, since over 100,000 deaths occured in that unfortunate city). He then compares America to a police station and Japan to a “man who runs at the station with a bat,” and concludes that it is therefore “all the man with the bat’s fault.” If that reasoning weren’t pathetic enough, he provides another justification for dropping the bombs: that Japan would have done the same, but to New York! Ah, the things I could teach the average /. writer about argumentation. I really hope these aren’t the same folks I meet in the workplace of my future. Read the rest of this entry »

The Potentiality Argument

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

In my first philosophy class, I remember putting forth an argument for why abortion cannot be defended on the “potentiality principle,” that is, that the human fetus has the potential to be a human being, and thus must be saved.

Someone on /. recently replied to an article about stem cell research, with some nice observations about the abusers of this principle:

Now, someone might argue that a process is started at conception which would end up with a functioning human. The potential is critical. There are a few problems with that position:

  • When a fertile woman smiles back at me, there is a potential for a new human.
  • The use of condoms stops the potential for a new human being.
  • Soon, all our cells will be potential humans with a little “twist”…
  • Half of all conceptions ends soon with a spontaneous abortion. That means, according to the bible belt, that half of all people dies at an age of a few days. To be consistent, the believers should argue that half of all medical research should try to stop this mass death!

The retort often flung back is that a fetus doesn’t merely have potential to be a human being, but it is a human being. This, however, is interesting when taking this poster’s last point about “spontaneous abortions.” If you’re willing to save a fetus from a willing abortion, shouldn’t you also see spontaneous abortions (and miscarriages, for example) as equally tragic, and thus deserving of serious medical research?

Ah, the arguments against early-term abortions really amaze me. How can you be so philosophically inconsistent?

Computational consciousness

Saturday, November 13th, 2004

I’m working on this philosophy paper, and am having a bit of a brain struggle. The paper I read makes a very strong point for a model of consciousness that is computational (functional), so that, for example, it is conceivable that a sufficiently advanced computer (or group of computers) could replace the brain and serve the same role (i.e. I’d still have conscious experiences, etc.)… but this is very hard for me to accept at a “gut-reaction” level. Although it would be very easy for me to write a paper defending Dennett’s claim, I am going to have work through this to figure out what is wrong with it (I am convinced something is wrong with it).

A quote Dennett cited (attributed to Fodor) made me laugh out loud and receive stares in this quiet lounge: “If, in short, there is a community of computers living in my head, there had also better be somebody who is in charge; and, by God, it had better be me.”

I have to re-read, and re-read, and outline, and re-read, and maybe, eventually, write.

Socialism is not the abolition of property

Monday, November 8th, 2004

If you look up the definition of socialism, like I recently did, it seems to be the same definition given for communism. Socialism is sometimes called the “intermediary stage to communism,” representing the stage in which workers take control of the means of production.

I was talking to my Dad, and explained to him that this is what annoyed me about all the active socialist groups (ISO/SEP) across the country. They all want violent overthrow, and the complete destruction of capitalism. They even want the abolition of property, and this sort of utopian future. But I don’t buy that. I don’t want to eliminate capitalism… I would just prefer a “fair capitalism,” where the government (and thus, the people) still has the power to regulate industry. Where corporations aren’t given the final word on all their decisions, where the people’s interest enters into things.

Wikipedia gives a better definition of socialism, with a lot of the history of the term, but I really don’t care about the terms. I just wish there was some movement that I could easily support that is simply calling for corporate accountability and industry regulation that is sensible and benefits the people at large.

Murphy’s Law: Murphy was an optimist

Wednesday, June 16th, 2004

Well, I have to hand it to you, Murphy. I really wasn’t expecting it this time. But you managed to do it. I thought I was free, but clearly I was not.

It’s 5:44am, the birds are starting to chirp, and here I am, finally with a working computer. I am still not entirely sure why it works now. I believe that the clips on the HT800 CPU cooler push down to hard on the CPU or the socket, and are causing instability problems. It doesn’t surprise me. Right now I have the clips off and it boots every time. I put the clips on and it doesn’t boot. I’m pretty sure it’s not coincidental. It’s also the only thing that has changed.

In any event, this has significantly slowed down my work on the summer project, but I’m going to make it up by working all weekend. angry

The question becomes, how am I gonna clip this CPU cooler to the motherboard without causing the instability? I tried only using 2 clips but that seems not to work either. And I can’t even lift up the HT800 since the thermal paste is acting as an adhesive (maybe I did too good a job?). In fact, I’m starting to think perhaps I put too much thermal paste, and that’s why the CPU is getting crushed. I guess things like that really make a difference when you’re talking millimeters.

Throughout all of this, I thought the reason for POST failure was: (a) thermal paste hotspots again; (b) BIOS issues with the installed video card, causing me to do CMOS resets about 40 times with mixed results; (c) bad memory, becuase sometimes taking a DIMM out helped; (d) bad IDE controller, because sometimes removing the drives helped. In all a-d, I believe I was wrong. This was Murphy playing games with me. He gave me four red herrings. The problem, I’m sure, was the clips all along, but Murphy took me for a ride and provided the coincidences to make it possible. All-expense paid trip into my own personal hell: a malfunctioning computer with all my data on it.

I am still not entirely sure of my theory. If Murphy breaks it here, though, I will be quite upset. What a bastard he can be.

Tomorrow I have to do UAC work all day. It’s imperative. Hopefully it’ll keep booting so I don’t have to use the Mac.